It is simple to walk through life thinking about ourselves, our families, our clients, our projects, our hobbies, our finances, our time, our image, our feelings, and more. For whatever reason, humans are designed to be self-centered and to see, hear, and read things through the lens that places our “me” and “my” at the forefront.
Not by coincidence, regularly setting aside our selfishness is one of the foundational elements of most faith practices. Writing this post, I sought to find some wisdom on selfish interest from the Christian, Hindu, and Buddhist theologies. I certainly could have included other faiths, but in the interest of brevity stopped with these three. I easily found these passages on the subject of selfishness:
“We should stop looking out for our own interests and instead focus on the people living and breathing around us.” 1 Corinthians 10:24
“...They are forever free who renounce all selfish desires and break away from the ego-cage of 'I,' 'me,' 'mine' to be united…This is the supreme state. Attain to this, and pass from death to immortality." Paraphrased from The Bhagavad Gita, 2: 71-72
“The real source of my suffering is self-centeredness: my car, my possession, my well-being. Without the self-centeredness, the suffering would not arise.” B. Alan Wallace, The Seven-Point Mind Training
So, why am I writing about this subject yet again? Because every leader must practice active generosity again and again, stepping away from their ego-centric inner dialogue. And the drive to maximize our own gain must be acknowledged and subordinated in favor of what is best for the greater good.
At ConvergenceCoaching®, this calls me to practice, fail, and practice again:
- Getting to know my people and understanding their experience level, confidence, unique motivators, personality preferences, and preferred communication approaches and trying to adapt my own style to meet them where they are whenever possible
- Giving all people – my team first and then clients, referral sources, alliance partners, vendors, and others – the benefit of best intentions and hopeful interpretations
- Teaching everything I know to those who are willing so that they can continue on without me – whether that is due to my inevitable (but not imminent) transition due to retirement or a sudden, unplanned absence due to illness
- Offering my time to my team members to celebrate their successes - big and small - and offer my observations on areas for improvement to help them succeed. Without a doubt, I could use more consistency in the celebration of successes!
- Sharing all of my contacts, resources, documents, deliverables, and other intellectual property so that my colleagues can leverage those creations in the service of their projects, too
- Seeking to put any creation, review and input to my colleagues’ projects and clients ahead of my own
- Sourcing work and passing it to others whenever possible, trying not to lead it myself
- Sourcing media and speaking opportunities and offering those to my colleagues at least as often as I accept them myself
- Agreeing to take whatever part of an engagement my team needs me to take, even when I don’t love it
- Taking 100% responsibility for the failure of anything I’m working on with clients, being careful not to hang any of my peers or subordinates out to dry when service failures occur
- Giving away credit for successes to my team members to our team, clients, and others
- Being completely transparent about our business model, revenues, expenses, profits, and business challenges to allow input from team members on ways we can change and grow
- Sharing my observations and ideas for how we can improve our programs, deliverables, and communications
- Making myself available for and being open to feedback for how I can improve and get better
I am what might be perceived as the “big dog” on our team, given my position, longevity, and experience, so I must model these behaviors. It isn’t easy. I often fail at one or more of them, but then I redouble my efforts to stand in others’ shoes and put their needs ahead of my own.
When I practice generosity myself, I can expect it of others, too. I owe it our team members to lovingly shine a light on selfishness when I perceive it, whether it’s someone on our team who is missing an opportunity to practice this dearly held core value, or a client or coachee whose selfishness is getting in the way of their success or the success of their practice.
None of this is easy. But selfish leadership does not inspire and motivate teamwork, change, or service in others. We must all work every day on the health of our team by building our generosity muscle, just as we work on building muscle strength.
How are you doing setting aside your selfish interest? Where does the leadership attribute of generosity fall in your priority list? How is your firm doing with this idea overall? What generosity behaviors did I fail to list that you think are important to include? What else could you or I do to be more generous? I’d love to hear your ideas!
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